img src="http://www.nowtoronto.com/images/cr itpick.gif" height="20" width="20">DAVID AXELROD (Mo'Wax/Beggars Group) Rating: nnnnn
for the past four decades in re- cording studios, David Axelrod has been quietly and methodically going about the business of shaping the sound of the future. Considering that Dr. Dre, De La Soul, Lauryn Hill, the Beatnuts and many other hiphop artists continue to build their music around the devastating drum breaks and nasty string stabs that Axelrod laid down between drinking binges during the Nixon administration, it's possible that the stuff he's currently working on will be all over the charts in 2029.
Until then, his just released self-titled debut for the Mo'Wax label offers a glimpse of things to come. All the classic Axelrod hallmarks -- the stinging strings, the badass beats and the dramatic tension that made the joints he cut for Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderley, David McCallum and the Electric Prunes treasure troves for sample-savvy producers -- are present in abundance.
That's probably because the basic rhythm tracks were cut back in 68, during Axelrod's peak, by the crack session crew of Carol Kaye, Howard Roberts, Earl Palmer, Don Randi and Joe Sample for what was to be the follow-up to the Electric Prunes' Mass In F Minor and Release Of An Oath.
The project was shelved, but the tracks survived on a single acetate that's been collecting dust in Axelrod's office ever since. It was only after an interview with Josh "DJ Shadow" Davis that the idea of constructing a new album with the vintage joints came up.
"After speaking with Josh, his photographer friend B+ (Brian Cross) came by the office to take some shots, and he noticed the acetate on the desk," chuckles Axelrod, recalling the scene. "He asked me what it was, and when I told him, he shouted, "Oh, my god! The unreleased Axelrod!' He insisted on hearing it and went absolutely crazy, jumping around saying, "You've got to release this!'"
But Axelrod has never been big on nostalgia. He couldn't just put out the recordings as some kind of novel historical artifact, so he booked time at his home stomping ground, Capitol's famed Studio B, devised some modern horn and string arrangements and composed two new songs -- the Rass Kass-spit opener The Little Children and the epic closing requiem, Loved Boy, movingly sung by Lou Rawls.
It's an astonishing work of rumbling power and lyrical elegance that stands proudly alongside his landmark Songs Of Innocence solo debut from 68, which ushered in the fusion era. Like all of Axelrod's productions, the album sounds not the least bit dated.
"We're living in the year 2001. If I hadn't thought I could do something that sounded like it was a product of today, I wouldn't have gone ahead with the album.
"For the arrangements, I went back to Arnold Schoenberg's tonal pieces -- the First Chamber Symphony and the First String Quartet. They got me thinking about his theory of harmony and how all the keys, no matter how distant, are related. So there may be times when the horns momentarily sound out of tune. They're not, they're just in another key.
"When James Lavelle, the head of Mo'Wax, heard the playback, he said, "How the hell did you make it sound so contemporary?' I didn't know how to answer that. How can you, really? It's just what's in your head."